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Africa's Counterfeit Goods Face Lax Legislation


A seminar was held last week in Senegal on stamping out counterfeit goods trafficked throughout Africa. These include a growing trade in tampered medical drugs and pirated music and movies. Officials and activists say better laws are needed to protect manufacturers and the general population.

Officials at the seminar said governments in developing countries used to think counterfeit goods were a problem for rich countries.

But now they say they realize with dangerous drugs being sold in street markets, the problems actually affect poor people even more. The problem can kill them.

Africans are also realizing counterfeiting can sap economic development.

Struggling musicians who depend on local markets are popular, but can barely scrape by a living when most of their music is sold outside legal channels.

These were some of the examples highlighted at a conference this week in Dakar.

Christophe Zimmerman who is in charge of the fight against counterfeiting and piracy at the Brussels-based World Customs Organization says African governments need to understand the severity of the problem.

"If we come to Africa and Africa is one of our main control priorities, but it is just for political awareness, first of all," said Zimmerman. "Second of all, [it is] to try to analyze, to understand what is happening there."

"When you go to the market, the open market, a lot of things are fake," continued Zimmerman. "We know that. Africa needs to have a regulation, a specific legislation about that and it is not the case."

The head of customs in Senegal Armand Naga says training of anti-counterfeit experts is also crucial.

He says experts need to differentiate between a real product and a fake one. He says they look very much alike and that often the fake one looks nicer than the real one. And he says stamping out the trade in counterfeit goods is probably easier at borders than anywhere else in Africa.

But Zimmerman says counterfeit businessmen are often way ahead of the law, whether at borders or inside countries, and that their regard for public safety is alarmingly non-existent.

"I saw a very strange thing [once]. I saw brakes made out of grass. And I promise you, you were not able to see that it was fake," he added. "But it was just grass. Can you imagine when you put brakes made in grass in your car?"

During the seminar, officials from Senegal's government announced that they would soon submit a law to establish an anti-counterfeiting brigade and increase regional cooperation.

Outspoken Senegalese rap artist Didier Awadi says he has heard it all before.

He says authorities are making no real effort. He says laws are too lenient if anyone is caught, and that the way they are written, only the petty criminals are caught, while the real bosses of the counterfeit underworld, he says, pay off bribes to continue in their ways.

What am I to do, he asks, if I see a young man selling a pirated tape of my music at a red light in traffic? Should I stop my car and beat him up? He says, if he takes the law into his own hands, he will be the one facing government persecution. If he tries to use the existing laws, he says, he will get only frustration.